(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "The prose style of Jonathan Swift"

w 2 

l-sli 

o- 

00- 



, 







Hunt, Theodore Whitefield 

The prose style of Jonathan 
Swift 




cop 




Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2011 with funding from 

University of Toronto 



http://www.archive.org/details/prosestyleofjonaOOhunt 



IE PROSS STYLE 

of 
JONATHAN SWIFT 



(In Reoresentative English Prose Writers 

by 
Theodore W; Hunt.) 






513387 




?R 

3729 

19- 



1. 

CHAPTER IV. 

THE PROSE STYLE OF JONATHAN SWIFT. 

Brief Biographical Sketch. 

Born Nov. 30th, 1667, in Dublin. Educated at Trinity 
College, Dublin, 1682. Thence to England 1689. Secretary to Sir 
William Temple. Went to Ireland as Prebendary of Kilroot, 16 94. 
Took Church Orders. Returned to Temple, 1696. In the Vicarage of 
Laracor, Ireland, 1699. Dean of St. Patricks Dublin, 1713. 
Visited England, 1726, Died Oct. 19th, 1745. 

English critics with but few exceptions, consent to give 
to Jonathan Swift, a prominent place among our standard prose 
writers. Khatever wiews may have been entertained by different 
biographers and readers relative to his moral character or the 
occasion of his eccentricities, there has been but little diff- 
erence of opinion as to his authorship. Historians speak of him 
as the erratic but brilliant Dean. Others declare that whoever 
relies upon his authority in the use of language may regard 
himself safe, while not a few go so fe.r as to place him at the 
very front of the literary talent of his time. 



His Prose Writings. 

Swift was emphatically a writer of prose. It is true 
that he indulged at times in the composition of verse as in his 
Poems to Stella, his Legion Club and the Pindaric Odes, but this 
was his strange work. The remark made to him by Dryden in refer- 
erence to the Odes, "Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet," would 
apply equally well to all his poetic productions. -He was even more - 
distinctively a prose author than Addison himself -and his fame 
must rest solely upon what he did in this department. 

First in order and rated by many critics as the ablest 
of his productions is, THE TALE OF A TUB. This was probably written 
as early as 1692, but not published till 1704. In this pamphlet 
the author uses allegory as the medium of expression and places 
before his readers the three prominent ecclesiastical orders of 
his day, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Papal. Under the image of 



2. 



three sons of a deceased father tampering with the will which ) 
had been left them, he takes occasion to hold up to ridicule 

these conf licting seels . At one llfle, he lashes with unsparing 1 
vigor the "eXlr'eme procedures of the Papal Church. In a milder 
but an equally effective vein, he holds up to derision the heresies 
of the English Dissenters, taking occasion when decisions must be 
made, to rnake them in accordance with the acknowledged claims 
of the Established Church. Equally sarcastic are what he calls 
The Digressions from the Tale. In these, he defines the true and 
the false critic; treats of instruction and diversion: and gives 
a digression in praise of digressions. In all these discussions i, 
his weapon is irony and he wields it with pronounced effect. The 
literary success of the work was unbounded. As to the general 
moral effect ^produced, relative to the pending questions of 
ecclesiasticism, we find the very church it was designed to favor 
regarded it as conducive to levity and looseness in practical 
religion. This is the fact despite the author's assertion - "If 
any one opinion can fairly be deduced from the book contrary to 
religion and morality, I will forfeit my life." 

In the same year (1704) appeared - THE BATTLE OF THE 300KS. 
This was based upon a narrow controversy between Boyle and Bentley 
as to the genuineness of the epistles of Phalaris, based also, on 
the far wider question as to the relative excellence of the ancients 

and moderns. 

The dispute was opened in favor of the Moderns by the French 
writers - Fontenelle and Perrault. Sir William Temple, the patron 
of Swift, answered on behalf of the Ancients. To this, in turn, 
reply was made by Tjfcjfon and Bentley on behalf of the Moderns. At 
this point Swift took up the discussion in his usual satirical 
vein. Under the image of a battle in the royal library at St. 
James 1 between ancient and modern books, he vindicated the old at 
the expense of the new, and dealt out some merciless criticisms 
upon -She authors of the later school. 

Resting awhile from authorship when engaged in the duties 
of his parish and the state, he appeared in 1708, in several 
successive papers. In his paper entitled - THE SENTIMENTS OF A 
CHURCH OF ENGLAND MAN - we have the religious and oolitical views 
of one who with apparent inconsistency called himself - "A Whig 
wearing a gown." In the same year appeared the highly popular 
Bickerstaff Papers - elicited by the morbid excess to which the 
astrology of the eighteenth century was carrying the English 
people. The contemptuous burning of the treatise by the Inquisition 
at Portugal exactly expressed the enraged sentiments of all the 
almanac compilers in the British realms. 



5. 



Now appeared also his famous - ARGUMENT AGAINST ABOLISHING 
CHRISTIANITY - in which irony is expressed in essence and which 
Dr. Johnson is pleased to call "hapoy and judicious." To this there 
succeeded in the following years - 

A VINDICATION OF 3ICKERSTAFF (1709) ; LETTER TO THE 
OCTOBER CLDB (1711) - a company of a hundred Tories bent upon the 
reform of the existing government; A PROPOSAL FOR CORRECTING, 
IMPROVING AND ASCERTAINING (making sure) THE ENGLISH TONGUE (1712). 
THE CONDUCT OF THE ALLIES (1712). In this state paper he took 
occasion to protest against the unfair relation in which England 
stood in the Triple Alliance between Germany and the Low Countries 
in the Spanish War. He brought to light the sufferings of his country 
at the hands of the mercenary Marlbourough, and called upon the 
nation for its own protection, to institute immediate peace. 

Swift's influence here is seen in the fact that the call 
was heard and heeded. In the space of two months eleven thousand 
copies were sold. The cry was for peace, and now was open that 
national movement, the approaching result of which was, the 
deposition of the existing authorities, the elevation of the Tories 
to political power and the final peace of Utrecht in 1713. Dr. 
Smith pronounces it "the most successful pamphlet ever printed." 
In close relation to this there followed - 

THE PUBLIC SPIRIT OF THE WHIGS. (1714) . THE DRAPIER LETTERS 
(1724) . This occasion, as is well known, was the attempt made 
by a Mr. Wood of England, to secure a patent by which he could 
coin ;£ 180,000, of half -pence and farthings for Ireland, so 
destitute then of copper money. The patent was ratified by the 
king and about to be applied. Swift caught at once, the meaning 
of the movement and the animus of the man behind it. He saw it 
to be a selfish and purely personal scheme, and began to expose it.- 
The Irish were aroused and such a storm of indignation as burst 
forth had never been seen in social histoyy. Drapier was the idol 
of the hour. 

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS appeared in 1726, in four parts. 

In Part I., is, The Voyage to Lilliput, in which is 
satirized the government of George I. 

In Part II, is, The— fory-age to Brobdingnag, and spec ial 
refere nce is made to Willia m_III • 

In Part III, the learned world becomes the victim of the 
datire, in a Voyage to Laputa. 

In Part IV, is the Voyage 6f the Houyhnhnms. 
The book is a satire on the human race. 



r. 



4. 



Other productions may be cited as follows: Memoirs as to 
the Queen's Ministry. Journal to Stella. Memoirs of Captain^ 
Creighton. Discourse as to Nobles and Commons. Paper on various 
topics - Religion, etc. 

CHARACTERISTICS OF HIS STYLE - FAULTS . 

In order to pursue such a discussion impartially, care must 
be taken to connect the man and the author. His personal peculiari- 
ties and his violations of moral propriety are to be noted as 
we study his style. There is a sense in which it may be said 
that Swift was a somewhat better author than a man and yet his 
personality goes far to determine his character as a writer. We re- 
mark - 

( 1 ) Absence of Liter ary El egance. 

In this particular at least the man and the author agreed. 
If Swift had been a purer man his literary style would have been 
more attractive. Comparing his prose at this point with Addison's t 
or Lamb's or with that of Irving, its inferiority is at once seen. 
The texture of his spirit was too gross and coarse to make it possible 
for him to conceive of literary grace and finish as Macauley con- 
ceived of them. This defect is seen in subject matter and in style 
alike. He discusses all topics in a kind of rough and ready method 
better adapted to the satisfaction of the many than of the cultured 
few. No one is so bold as to connect Swift's name with the highest 
forms of literary art. 

Hence he is never more at home as a prose writer than in the 
unrefined imagery of Gulliver's Travels or in those harsh invectives 
wKlch he pours out against his political and ecclesiastical foes. 
In "some of his papers, such as, The Modest Proposal, this buffoon- 
ery descends to ribaldry and the low water mark of literary rude- 
ness is reached. His Journal to Stella reminds one of Rousseau's 
Confessions. The points of similarity between the French infidel 
and the English Dean are not infrequent. 

The fact is, that with the character he had it is amazing 
that his style is as clean as it is. His tendencies were low. He 
would rather pen a quasi-moral letter to Stella than discuss a high 
class theme on the lofty ground of reason and moral law. Even if 
his theme be - A Project for the Advancement of Religion - he will 
succeed in disgusting every sensitive taste ere he has advanced 
a half dozen paragraphs. In Gulliver's Travels, especially at the 
close, the effect is simply revolting until we are assured that 
of all satires on humanity, Swift himself is the most pronounced. 
Dr. Johnson is rugged in his style; Swift is rude. u Johnson lacks,) 
smoothness and finish; Swift lacks propriety. -^ 



5. 



( < An In ferior Order of Imagination. 

Though bis faculty has its special function in poetry as 
creative and pictorial, it has in prose, also, rightful place as 
historic, philosophic and constructive. It saves prose from being 
prosaic. Both on its mental and moral side, Swift's imagination 
was of the lower type. Even where it is free in its action from 
moral obliquity, it takes the form of fancy rather than that of 
imagination proper, and rarely if ever rises to the level of 
original constructive power. There is an absence of a high poetic 
power of representation as applied to prose, and as seen in the 
prose of Milton and Hooker. In this respect, he was far below ~fr~ 
Addison, where imaginative ability was sound if not brilliant. 
One of his biographers - Sir Walter Scott - goes so far as to say 
"He never attempted any species of composition in which either 
the sublime or the pathetic was required of him." In the spher e 
of allegory, wit and analogy he was at home, but these are forms 
of ~ :n.a"htal action lying on the borders of true imagery end not 
within them. Here again, the relation of mind to character is evi- 
dent. It was morally impossible for Swift to rise to that sublimi- 
ty of conception which matks the action of natures ethically pure. 
Such a modus was totally foreign to him nor could he adopt it 
when offered. The main feature of sublimity in an author is what 
Longinus terms - elevation of spirit. Of this the Irish Dean was 
devoid. He walked with his face to the earth. 



FEATURES OF MERIT. 

(1) Force and Spirit. 

Strange extremes exist here among the opinions of 4he English 
critics. Those who follow the guidance of Dr. Johnson assert that 
there was little or no force in anything he wrote and that those 
treatises which seemed to occasion such radical changes in public 
sentiment at the time did so through the excited passions of the read- 
ers. Others see nothing but impassioned cogency in his papers and 
are willing to credit to himall those general movements in society 
and the state of which the history of that time is so full. There is 
apparent truth in each of these positions. The first is plausible 
lin that those political changes might have been due to the good 
judgment of Swift as an interpreter of the nature of the times 
/rather than to his style as an authori This theory would give him 
[credit on the score of foresight rather than of force. As to the 
[second view, it cannot be denied that some of these questions were 
I so presented as to awakeH and maintain attention and modify materially 
the secret councils of ^ueen Anne. No one can note the signal triumph 



6. 



of the Drapier letters as to the social economy of the 
realm, or the effect produced by the Bickerstaff Papers 
and other writings and consistently charge their author 
with mental weakness. Many of the topics which he dis- 
cussed were of such a nature in their practical relation 
to the state and people that he could not but be fervent 
in their expression. It is true that the allegorical^ f* 
character of his style detracted somewhat from its J 
literary power, that he had in his style little of the 
strictly persuasive element of oratorical writing or 
impassioned strength such as Milton evinced, still 
Swift cannot in justice be termed a nerveless or indiff- 
erent prose writer. The more prolonged and thorough 
one's study is of his real character as seen in his writings 
the more evident it is that he was possessed— OX true 
literary vigor and rose at times to the level of true passion 
Some of his papers such as, A Letter to Young Clergymen, 
seemed to decry feeling in favour of cold rational 
methods. Here he has been misunderstood. He is not 

pleading against fervent force in style, but in behalf 
of more decided intellectual skill. One of his trenchant 
paragraphs well expresses his view as he writes to his 
young clerical friend, "If your arguments be strong, in God's 
name offer them in as moving a manner as the nature of 
the subject will properly admit, but beware of letting the 
pathetic part swallow up the rational, for I suppose philo- 
sophers have long agreed that passion should never prevail! 
over reason." This is perfectly clear and eminently safe 

doctrine. He holds to a wise and sound rhetorical 
principle when he insists that discourse shall be possessed 
of as much passion as the subject matter will allow. To 
come short of that would betray weakness; to go beyond it 
would expose to ridicule. 

In fact Swift was deeply in earnest in most of his 
hi writings. Against the fraud of Wood as to the coinage 
and against what he conceived to be the political abuses 
of the time he protested with all the ardor of a Chatham 
or a Burke. 

Swift's style is in no sense tame or insipid. It 
bristles~'ahd sparkles at times, and in its idiomatic terse- 
ness often reminds us of the manner of Carlyle. Pungency 
and point abound. In some of his writings which are 
morally objectionable and which as Mr. Stephen argues 
justly "ought to have been burnt" this incisive element 
is most apparent. In a literary sense, the style is, thus, 
readable. Its animation attracts to the perusal of it and 
we are not allowed to become weary. 



7. 



Swift played a part here that was played in 
France by Voltaire, or by Rabelais to whom Voltaire 
compared h4m. 

(2 ) His Satirical Power * 

In this he has been rarely if ever equalled. 
He has been aptly called - The Lord of Irony. He is 
nbt simply ironical at times by way of a pleasing 
literary variety but is so throughout. He is more 
than sarcastic. Sarcasm itself seems to be embodied in 
Kim. He was born and bred a satirist. The element is' 
in the blood and bone. It was his meat and drink to 
indulge in it. He enjoyed nothing more than this literary 
dissection of a victim in co^d blood. "Swift", says 
Taine, "has the genius of insult. He is anf inventor 
of irony as Shakespeare is of poetry." As he himself proud- 
ly asks in one of his own poems - 

Qj,<. /<, n-o **-* y J-' 

"Who dards to irony pretend 

Which I was born to introduce 

defined it first and showed its use? 4 *. 

This was an honour which truly belonged to him 
in orose as to Dryden and Pope in verse, and it was un- 
safe for any of his day to question his right in this 
realm. Ironical as he was, he was always the master of 
the irony and in the main used it for wise and proper 
purposes. He knew where and when and whom to strike. 
It is a redeeming feature in his character and style 
that he rarely exercises his sarcasm apart from the eJjBBfiflt 
of pleasantry. There is always visible a. vein of genuine 
humour and good nature so that however much the language 
might sting and smart, it did not awaken revenge on the 
part of its subject. Addison in one of his letters to 
.iwift praises him for this quality of style. One of his 
intimate friends speaks of it as his"unlucky quality" in 
that it placed him at the disposal of designing men. 
Swift himself speaks of 

"His vein ironically given, 
As with a moral view designed 
To cure the vices of mankind." 

He suggestively alludes to his manner of writing \ 
"as his own humorous biting way." In this respect, Swift 
was something of a -humorist. He had a kind nature after all 
and in this oarticular reminds us more of the manner of 
the genial Cervantes than of the sour and cruel Voitaire. 
In some of his shorter papers such as,- An Argument against 
Abolishing Christianity, A Project for the Advancement of 
Religion, A Scheme to make a Hospital for Incurables, 
this playful pleasantry rises to its. acme. Beyond doubt. 



) 



8. 



lasting good was done by him in his own day through 
this serio-comic method. H< '>ruck straight and 

rd and yet with no malice in the blow. :v, Lft is 
sail to have cultivated, purposely, the cynTcal, cen- 
- ious style and to. have indulged in ir cause 
u.-'v.:, : l to v/ound a sensitive spirit. ae thing of 
this there was here and there evident, but it is no t 
frequent enough to . characterize his style ..as"~acr id 
and" captious . He believed in the thoro ugh c ri >m ' 
of me n and measure s and ted satire as Butler <■ I 
Pope aia and as Horace and/' Juven al did - f or benign ends . ? 
In - i'he Apology - which he wrote as an answeTTTT" 
Those who were offended by some passages in - The x'ale 
of a Tub - he dwells at length on this very topic and 
proved conclusively that his motive as good throughout 
his satire. No one can read this Apology and not be 
convinced as never before, of the ingenuousness of 
the author as a literary critic. 

(3) Individuality and Independence . 

Swift is unique in personality and style. He 
was himself and no other one. In the most wayward of 
his eccentricities he was consistent with himself . His 
oddness was to him perfectly natural and had he attempted 
to imitate any one in any particular he 'would have 
failed as certainly as Dr. Johnson would have done in 
a similar attempt. Sv.ift never attempted strictly drama- 
tic writing. He could not successfully personate another. 
>2ven in his lunacy there was this personal element, 
x'here was "a method in his madness" and it was his own. 
Jhere was no other lunatic in Britain like him. As this 
principle applies to literature, it is not strange to 
read in a /reface to jne of the editions of his works -j 
"that he had never been known to take a single thou fc ht 
from any writer ancient or modern." This is of course 
an extreme statement and yet approximately true. ::o ' ^ 
prose writer of English will stand testing at this point *' 
better than Swift. He aptly expresses of himself the 
same sentiment which Denham expresses of Cowley - that he 

/ "Th steal a hint was never known, 
L_But what he wrote was all his own." 



nl 1. 



* 



In his words of sound advice to a young 
clergyman he says, in speaking of the excessive use 
of commonplace boohs for quotations, "I could wish 
that men of tolerable intellectuals would rather 
trust their own natural reason improved by a 
f eneral conversation with books." This was, in fact 
his own uniform practice. He was an althor in 1 
strict etymological sense of the word - an increaser 
of knowledge and ideas. He pursued the plan of his 
notable predecessor - Bacon - in aiming to add to the 
.urn and enlarge the bounds of human knowledge. 

Swift does not appear to have been so much a 
reader of books a»& as an observer of men and movements 
and he learned from the latter more by far than he 
could have learned from the former. He trusted, as 
he- would aay, to his own intellectuals. In so far as 
general reading would enable him the better to utilize 
what he saw and heard, he availed himself of it. 

Swift's style indicates clearly that he was a 
man who observed and hou ht for himseYf .' His most 
extensive productions have for their very occasion 

] wading idea this independence of view in matters 
secular and religious. In many instances he ran 
right athwart the current opinions of the hour and 
by his bold assertions assumed the part of a reformer 
of abuses. The opposition that he so provoked by /* 
his ecclesiastical and state papers proves alike 
his independence of view an: his personal courage, 
and when assailed he was always ready to give a 
reason r or his methods. 

Mention has been made of the force and spirit 
of his style. This mality was the direct result of 
this freedom from servility that marked the man as 
it did the author. "wift had = rave faults but he was 
n6t a ilme"- server" in an age of time-servers. In this 
respect, he was even Addison's superior as he was Lord 
Bacon's and more akin in temper to the intrepid l.lilton. 
Swift 'ii style is his own. Its merits and faults 

•; his. This does much to enhance the merits and 
atone for the faults. 

(4) Good use of .n r lish . 

No other English writer up to his ^ime had 
a more sincere" love for his native tdngue than did 
Swift . Ho on; took a deeper interest in its develop- 
ment and proper use. 



10. 



One of the first questions- he asked as to any 
scholar brought to his notice was, as to his knowledge* 
of English and interest in it. If there were ignorance^ \J 
and indifference that was enough to mark the man as 
grossly deficient. This feature appears at frequent 
intervals. In his political treatises he speaks of it. 
Tn iiniiiver' s Travels he speaks of it; in his Journal 
to Stella, he~~nattrrsITy refers to it in that among his 
early pleasures at temple's, had been Stella's instruct- 
ion in English. At times, in the course of his writing 
when the logical structure would not demand it he would 
aigress to the praise of his native speech. i'here are 
two of his papers in which he dwells with special 

emphasis on the subject; these are,- A Letter to a 
Young Clergyman, and,- A Proposal for Ascertaining, 
Correcting, and Improving the English Tongue. In 'M the 
name of the educated classes of the nation he.protests 
against the existing imperfections and corruptions of 
the language, especially as seen in common conversation 
ana* "pulpit discourse. To the young divine he writes, 
"I should have been glad if you had applied yourself a 
little more to the study of the English language, the 
neglect whereof is one of the most general defects 
among the scholars of this kingdom who seem not to have 
the least conception of a style, but remain in a flat 
Kind of phraseology often mingled with barbarous terms 
and expressions peculiar to the nation." It is 
inspiring thus to see a master of Bnglish style re- 
buking and stimulating his countrymen as to their ver- 
nacular. It was because there were so few of such re- 
formers that Swift's position was important. In this 
resoeet he was takin fr up the work which Milton in his 
own way had furthered and which Dr. Johnson was materi- 
ally to advance. Scarcely too much can be said on 
Swift's behalf in that he saw, in this respect, the 
need of the hour and up to the measure of his personal 
ability, satisfied it. The debt of modern English 
Philology to these earlier enthusiasts can never be 
fully paid. 

In his Proposal, he laments that "our language 
is less refined than those of Italy, Spain or France;" 
notes the various ways in tohich a language may change; 
alludes to the special excellence of English from the 

time of Elizabeth to the Commonwealth; deprecates the 



11. 



excessive corruptions that came in with the civil wars 
so that the court was "the worst school in England;" 
j rieves over th^ tendency to undue abbreviations of 
words and syllables and to false refinements of lan- 
guage and proceeds to suggest the organization of a 
body of scholars for the express purpose of "ascertain- 
ing (making: sure) and fixing our language forever." 
Ho closes his Proposal by showing how such an enterprise 
would add to the glory of the English nation and serve 
to make the history of that day full of interest to 
the "times succeding". Ko later scholar has ever 
pleaded for a special educational object with more 
zeal and disinterested love than did Swift for this 
Proposal. This, if nothing else, would make his name 
one of interest to every English student and lead us 
to expect as we' open his writings the preseence of 
a master of rlnglish . Hence, we find that in compass ~> 
and quality o r 1 as, al . -actness and 
vT£"o"r~"o T ence, Swift stands on a high literary 

rtvel_. In these respects, no writer up to his time 

HgsTewer prominent faults or reads more as a modern 
e ssayist . We' are no longer oblired to do as is necess- 
% ary witn Hooker and Bacon and even Milton, to have 
frequent resort to a glossary for the exposition of 
words and phrases, i'hese are so rare as to afford no 
barrier. The language is English throughout, and is 
a more modern English thatn the llizabethan. We are 
in the period of Settled "English rather than Normative/ 
or transitional. We have as yet met no essayist who 
reads as smoothly and fluently and none to which, in 
a literary point of view, the student of style can 
be more safely referred. 

In speaking of the author's use of 'jn. lish — 
there are two features of style needing emphasis. 

(a, s Ease and naturalness of expression .,. 
He had whaTT"is called in Scripture "the pen of 
a ready writer." He had "the gift of utterance". 

Eccentric as he was, his manner as a writer 
w as marked by . f read m _and naturalness ♦__ W natever art 
there was in his style was adroitly concealed and 
every movement was marked bgr fluency and readiness. 
However forced his imagery seems at times to be, his 
diction was soontaneous and always germane to the 
subject, x.o writer had more thorough contempt for 
the affected fancies of Euphuism and the later French 
school in Sngland than had Swift, and no one more fully 
carried out his theory. 1' he re was nothing artificial. 



12. 



One of the clearest confirmations of this fact is, 
that in the Journal to Stella, containing Swift's 
private correspondence, there is no greater frank- 
ness of statement than in his more public product- 
ions. He is outspoken and ingenuous everywhere and 
in this respect widely differs from such authors as 
Goethe, Schiller and Addison who adopted one manner^- 
in public discourse and quite another in private. ' 

S wift's eaze of style - the absence of stud- 
ied eff ec^^fs^wort hy of note. If the law propound- 
ed by Quintilian is correct and one is to write so 
clearly that the reader must understand him whether 
he will or not then Swift was clear and natural. He 
wrote as if it were the easiest thing possible for him 
t(r do. The page is in no sense labored but facile 
and free. The-Teader as he goesTrarely thinks of 
the author but of the subject matter. Language with 
Swift was a means, not an end. To set forth his 
ideas was the one object and no undue attention was 
given to the medium itself. Herein lies the per- 
fection of literary style - that in its consummate 
art^it gives the impression of absolute spontaneity. 
As vPope, phrases it - "True eas e in w ritings, come s 
f rom art not chance." Swift possessed this ease 
which is the~fTnaT~~fesult and recompense of all art. 
His sentences read as smoothly as those of Macaulay 
and Lamb. 

i'or had Swift gained such ease by haphazard 
but in the line of faithful devotion to authorship 
and literary law. 

(b) Verbal Plainness 

In the twelfth chapter of his Travels he 
writes - "Lly principal design being to inform and 
not to amuse, I rather choose to rebate plain matter 
of fact in the simplest manner." 

" Proper w ords in proper places" is hi3 terse 
definition of a ggod^s^yi©-; In - his ad'viceTo his 
clerical friend, he is especially explicit on this 
point. The first error tn which- he calls attention 

, ,'ae use of "obscure terms" »f Which he idds 
" Eh aT he does not know a more universal and inex- 
cusable mistake." He speaks of it as especially 
noticeable among the educated "that whereas a common 
farmer will make you understand in three words that 
his foot. is out of joint, a surgeon, after a hundred 



13. 



terras of art will leave you in ignorance." In a 
somewhat indignant spirit at the ostentatious 
diction of the clergy he writes - "I defy the 
greatest divine to produce any law, either of 
God or man which obliges me to comprehend the 
meaning of ubiquity, entity .idiosyncrasy and the 
like." He is of the opinion that nine-tenths of 
the terms used could be changed to the profit of 
the hearer. He asserts the principle, that the 
divine should have nothing to say to the wisest 
of men which the most uneducated could not under- 
stand; that the comprehension of washer-women and 
servant girls and daily laborers, should be the 
standard rather than the conversation of savants. 
He is never weary in speaking of simplicity of 
style as that without which no human production 
can arrive at any great excellence. He takes the 
strong position, that when men are not plain , it 
is either from malice or pride of learning. He 
holds that the path of clearness lies in the line 
of -nature. On this theory, a man to be obscure 
must be somewhat perverse. Continuing his attack 
against the pride of learning, his wrath gives way 
to irony and humor as he avows, that all the terms 
ol abstract philosophy have with all their de- 
fects, one great advantage - that they are equally 
understood by the vulgar and the preacher. He 
alludes very pertinently in this connection to 
the style of Bunyan with whose simplicity he 
was charmed. -"I have been better entertained and 
more inspired by a few pages in Pilgrim's Progress 
than by a long discourse on simple and complex ideas." 
He felt attracted as Mr. Froude has been by the 
honest 3axon homeliness of the dreamer's diction. 
In all this language we have a revelation 
not only of Swift's theory but of his daily prac- 
tice as a writer. {t is safe to say that in 
respect —to plain ness he has no superior in English 
Prose. No one ha s w r i 1 1 e n so muen and written 
tTOTb" cleaxly. In the study of his style, there 
is a marked absence of any show of learning; of 
the drawing of distihcTTonH without a difference 

of using words for the sake of using them. 
:-'o prominent is this feature, that what is called 
the natural style of prose was often sacrificed to it. 



14. 



He preferred i ntelligibility to hi; qdjjng 
iuence orjjhrasej — Se--was so : jon st 

things in a plain way fcr plain people 



^c that he was in danger, at times, of reaching the 
opposite extreme of tameness or undue familiarity. 
Hence, some critics speak of his style as ordinary./ 
The fact is that because of its simplicity it is 
quite exceptional. Nothing is more common than 
literary obscurity. In his Antony-like method of 
"speaking right on" he needed but few of the de- 
vices of tjje schools and it was his bluntness that 
offended his enemies and secured his victories. 
He called things by their names, used terms in their 
commonly accepted senses and had no faith in Talley- 
rand's theory "that language is the art of concealing 
tho ght . " 

"' Tjvas h is occupation to be plain.". As to 
this quality *~ style, Swift followed in the ling of 
Slfflyan, Taylor, Puller and Za fioe ai 3 anticipated 
rill lir e best essayists of the Tol lowing centuries. 
ile wrote a simpler Sn/lish than any of his con- 
temporaries, Addison not excepted, and in phraseo- 
logy and structare was the most modern writer of 
the Augustan Age. In this respect, the student of 
expression may find in Swift much to admire and 
imitate. It is, certainly, a matter of deep regret 
that the moral character of the man was such, and 
many of his discussions of such a nature that the 
true excellence of the style is not allowed to have 
its full effect. One additional feature of his 
style must be noted. 



( 5) Freedom from Pedantry & Hypocrisy . 

Mr. Leslie Stephen in the biography of the 
author makes frequent allusion to this characteristic 
of Swift's style. If_we examine closely we shall 
find that most of his important writings .were 
occasioned by his intense opposition to sham and 
parade of every sort. He was the Carlyle of the 
AugujjiaiLAge— in—hia. hatred of isms and frauds, and 
felt himself to be as Carlyle did, a self-appointed 
censor and reformer. Thus , "The Tale of a Tub", 
was as his biographer writes "another challenge 
thrown down to pretentious pedantry." So, in The 
Battle of the Books, he fought against scholastic 






15. 



to be his mission 
in his sermons 
prominent word, 
dangerous extreme 



pedantry as distinct from ecclestiastical. In fhe 
Drapier Letters, he rose to indignant protest against 
practical corruption under the pretense of public 
spirited benevolence, while in Gulliver's Travels 
he indulged in a scathing satire against humanity 
itself as in turn, the author and the victim of 
whims and delusions. He feels it 
to expose the disguise. So, even 
and smaller papers, satire is the 
There is, as might be supposed, a 

in all this which Swift in his style did not escape. 
He laid himself open to the charge of cynical crit- 
icism and is not yet wholly exonerated. At times, 
as in Gulliver, he fairly prefigures the modern 
pessimists and lacerates for the sake of pleasure. 
Hence the intense bitterness expressed against him 
in his own day so that on his own confession, no 
less than a thousand papers were penned against him 
as a partisan in church and atate. J At heart, how- 
ever, he was a better man and the explanation of his 
rancor is found in his opposition to hypocrisy. As 
far as this sentiment was healthy and under control 
it added vigor,point and spirit to his style and 
made him a practical rather than a speculative writer. 
His hatred of philosophy arose from its overdrawn 
distinctions and he thoroughly believed in everyday 
sense, j One is struck in this respect with the 
brrslliess like character of many of his papers. 
He did not confine himself to the great questions 
of church and state, society and letters, but 
wrote on the most practical topics of common life 
even down to - Directions to Servants. In his best 
mood Swift was a helpful critic. In his wayward 
moods he was a cruel heartless cynic, and not a 
little of his literary defect as a writer must be 
laid at the door of mental despondemcy. 

In fine, the jo rose styleo f Swift had far 
more merits than faultsT — LauktngTn grace and 
high imaginative power and often bordering on the 
censorious and cynical, it still possessed a 
force, a satirical point', an individuality, an 
eare and plainness of English usage and a downright 
practical bluntaess that marked it as superior and 
aake it still representative. Ko one probably will 
ever know the poignancy of his personal trials, 
he world was a ainst him from the outset nor has 



16. 



he ever elicited to any degree such sympathy as has 
been freely accorded to Lamb and Goldsmith in hours 
of similar discouragement. That he wrote as he wrote 
amid such experiences is the greatest marvel of all. 
lie has left a style notable for most of the essential 
qualities of good writing save literary finish and 
cannot be said to have had his superior in English 
prose up to the days of George II. 



References and Authorities. 

l.orley's Swift (Eng. Men of Let.) j^orster's 
5wift. Thackeray's English Humorists. Johnson's 
Lives of the Poets. 






/ 



v/ 1 



PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE 
CARDS OR SLIPS FROM THIS POCKET 

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO LIBRARY 



PR 
3728 

19— 
cop. 2 



Hunt, Theodore Whitefiald 

The prose style of 
Jonathan Swift